Essere & Stare: What’s the Difference?
In Italian, there are two verbs that have just one equivalent in English: stare and essere. They are not interchangeable, though.
The good news is that in 95% of the cases, the verb to use is essere. So, when in doubt, use essere! However, there are cases where use stare is expected and mandatory.
In this article, I clarify when to use essere and especially when it is necessary to use stare.
How to use ESSERE
- yourself and your nationality: sono Serena e sono italiana
- your job: sono un’insegnante di italiano per stranieri
- origins: sono di Milano
- your physical appearance and personality: sono alta e sono simpatica
Essere also indicates the state of being and is used to:
- describe locations: Roma è una bella città.
- describe objects: la mia casa è grande e luminosa.
- locate objects: dove è la mia borsa? E‘ sulla sedia
Essere is also widely used in combination with “ci” in the verb esserci (c’è/ci sono, in English, there is/there are). Esserci states the existence of someone or something.
- C’è un bambino nuovo a scuola – there is a new kid in the school
- Ci sono quattro sedie in cucina – there are four chairs in the kitchen
How to use STARE
Stare has a variety of uses, some of which are idiomatic expressions. We can generally say that stare indicates location, health, and appearances. It is also used in a good number of idiomatic expressions and with the present continuous tense.
In this case, stare means rimanere (to remain or to stay in English).
- Oggi sto a casa – I’m staying home today
- come stai? – How’re you?
- sto bene – I’m good
- sto male – I’m not good
- sto meglio – I’m better
Stare bene and stare male mean that something (e.g. a piece of clothing) looks great on you or not. In English you would say “it suits me/you, etc”.
- Questa giacca mi sta benissimo – this jacket looks great on me!
- Quel capello ti sta male – that hat does not suit you
Stare means to be in a variety of idiomatic expressions, as in the following examples:
- Stare in piedi – to be standing/to stand
- Stare seduto – to be seated
- Stare zitto/a – to be quiet
- Stare attento – to pay attention
- Stare calmo – to stay calm
- Stare a cuore – to have at heart
- Stare con – to be in a relationship with someone
Stare vs essere
In some of the above expressions, stare and essere are interchangeable. There is a subtle difference between them, though. Essere states a quality or a statement, while stare implies a voluntariness in the action described.
- sono in piedi – I stand / sto in piedi – I voluntarily stand
- sono seduto – I’m seated / sto seduto – I’m voluntarily seated
- sei calmo – you are calm person (quality) / stai calmo! – please, try to stay calm (voluntarily)
The Present Continuous with stare
The present continuous describes an action that is happening at the moment that you speak, right now. The present continuous in Italian is expressed by the present tense of the verb stare plus the gerund.
- Sto cucinando – I am cooking
- Sto parlano al telefono – I am on the phone with Maira
Stare + Per + Infinitive
When stare appears in combination with per and an infinitive, it describes an action that will happen in the near future.
- La lezione sta per finire – the lesson is about to finish
- Sto per uscire – I am leaving at any moment
Learn Italian the efficiently with Serena’s stories
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